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Tom Consalo expects good crop of New Jersey blueberries

VINELAND, NJ — At the end of May, Tom Consalo, vice president of The Freshwave LLC, was looking forward to the start of the New Jersey blueberry season.

Berries from the southern United States were showing good quality and strong volume, and barring any unforeseen weather problems, he expected a smooth transition to berries from the Garden State.

“Florida had some detrimental weather in the beginning of their season,” Consalo told The Produce News on a bright and sunny Tuesday afternoon, May 27. He was referring to wet and cool weather that Florida experienced in April. But there was “very mild weather” in May, he noted, with no major events to affect the blueberry crop.

In fact, “supplies have been steady” from Florida as well as from Georgia and North Carolina, which follow Florida regarding blueberry production.

“The quality of the fruit has been very good,” he said. “Things have been very steady.”

Timing of most crops in the eastern United States has been a concern to all growers and distributors this year, due to an extremely harsh winter in many parts of the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Asked specifically about the timing of blueberries, Consalo said that supplies from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina were “just a bit late” this season, and “later varieties will go a little later than normal.”

But looking at the Southern blueberry picture as of the end of May, Consalo summed it up by saying, “So far, so good. This has been one of the smoother years of the recent past.” Quality has been “outstanding thus far,” he said. “To avoid big gluts in the marketplace, we’ve been very responsible in booking ads to keep the market steady and product moving.”

Looking more closely at the blueberry picture, Consalo estimated that New Jersey blueberries would start “a few days to a week later than normal, which is no surprise.” He added, “I think we’ll have a few pallets around the 20th of June, and then promotable volume a few days after that.” So he fully expected “plenty of product” for the key Fourth of July holiday.

“And when it comes, it’s going to be a very large crop,” he added. “It’s going to be a heavy year.” In fact, “despite the rough winter we had, North Carolina and New Jersey have very heavy crops.”

Blueberries are certainly top of mind to everyone at The Freshwave. The company, based here in southern New Jersey and headed by Skip Consalo, has a comprehensive program in place to make sure that it has blueberries on hand to supply its customers virtually all year long.

It offers Chilean blueberries generally during January, February and March, moving to Georgia from around mid-April to the end of May. North Carolina usually has berries from around mid-May to mid-June.

New Jersey historically is producing from mid-June to late August, with Michigan and British Columbia shipping from mid-August to mid-September. Argentina completes the cycle from around October into mid-December.

Blueberries actually make up 50 percent of the company’s volume, and Jersey blues comprise 50 percent of that, Tom Consalo stated. So generally speaking, New Jersey blueberries represent about 25 percent of the company’s overall volume, “and this year, New Jersey blueberries might be 30 percent,” he said.

“We’ve acquired an additional 250 acres of blueberries in the Hammonton area,” he informed. “This year will be our biggest for New Jersey blueberries — no doubt about it.”

That should be good news for consumers and retailers alike, who eagerly look forward to blueberries from the Garden State year after year. “Weather has been conducive to a great crop” of New Jersey berries, he said. “Nights have been mild, [with] no real drastic weather. So quality right now is looking to be good.”